Originally created 06/23/97

Missouri is letting tourists dig the past at archaeological sites

IMPERIAL Mo. Ä At the base of a limestone bluff, some 13,000 years ago, a young man plunged a crude spear into an elephant-sized beast.

There's no way to know whether the hunter survived, but his stone spear point was found beneath the mastodon's bones.

The excavated bone beds, skeletons and stuffed likeness of animals that roamed Missouri as far back as the last ice age - some 300,000 years ago - are part of the Mastodon State Historic Site, about 20 miles south of St. Louis off Interstate 55.

The site is only a small part of what archaeologists have unearthed in Missouri.

"The state is rich in human history dating back to that Paleoindian period some 11,000 years B.C.," according to archaeologist Larry Grantham.

Tourists are welcome to dig into Missouri's early history by visiting some of the sites managed by the Division of State Parks and groups such as the Missouri Archaeological Society.

Graham Cave State Park, about 75 miles southwest of St. Louis, has an interpretive center and a display of artifacts from the era between 8000 and 7000 B.C.

Evidence of the Archaic period, from 7000 to 1000 B.C., is found at several sites, including Graham Cave State Park and Bothwell Lodge State Historic Site about 50 miles west of Jefferson City.

The Woodlands period, from 1000 B.C. to A.D. 900, is represented at Van Meter State Park northeast of Independence and the petroglyphs at Thousand Hills State Park near Kirksville.

The best evidence of the later Mississippian cultures can be found in the mounds at Towosahgy in the southeast corner of the state near the Mississippi River and at the petroglyphs at Washington State Park southwest of St. Louis.

The petroglyphs, most now protected by a roof, are weathered, but the thunderbirds, snakes, birds and ritual markings are easily discernible, especially with the aid of labeled posters that show their outlines.

Early Indians used crude stone tools to scrape, cut and grind the designs into the dolomite outcroppings. The symbols are believed to have been used in religious ceremonies seeking divine help for rain, crops, hunting and fertility.

Standing quietly at the site, with the wind rustling through the oak trees, a visitor with a good imagination can almost hear the tools scraping against the stone.

The Mississippian period ran from A.D. 900 to the first contact with Europeans, in this case Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet in 1673.

In southwest Missouri, not far from Springfield, lies the Osage Village Historic Site, which includes remnants of two ancient villages, and Van Meter State Park, with the remains of a Missouri Indian village and mounds left by an earlier culture.

Mr. Grantham is leading a dig this summer at Iliniwek, the 17th-century Illini village site in extreme northeast Missouri first visited by the two French explorers. The dig is on the Missouri side of the Des Moines River just across from Keokuk, Iowa.

At least two other archaeological field schools are to operate this summer and can be viewed by the public. Students from Murray State University in Kentucky and Southeast Missouri State in Cape Girardeau will begin work at a site south of Ste. Genevieve. It overlooks the rich bottomland that drew the first French settlers to the area in the mid-1700s. Not far from the historic site is a large mound built by the Mississippian Indians, who also created Cahokia Mounds in Illinois just east of St. Louis.

"The public will be welcome at the dig," said Jim Baker, historic site administrator for the state. "Part of the training of the students will be explaining to the public what they do."

At the Arrow Rock State Historic Site off I-70, archaeologists from the University of Tennessee will be directing a study linked to early black history.


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